Don’t eat me alive, but I’ve never beaten a Dragon Quest game. Before this, my only experience with this series is playing several hours of the Dragon Quest IV: Chapters of the Chosen remake on the Nintendo DS years ago. I didn’t stop playing it because I disliked the game, but rather because playing a DS game on an emulator as I was at the time just doesn’t feel quite right. Now, roll time forward a bit and we’ve just gotten Dragon Quest VII on the 3DS, and I’m prepared to give the series a real shot now. So, as a newcomer to the series, what do I think?
There will be spoilers about the structure and exposition of the plot to help explain the gameplay, so you’ve been warned.
Dragon Quest VII: Fragments of the Forgotten Past is a 3DS remake of the title of that name, originally released in 2001 for the PS1 as Dragon Warrior VII in the States. It is a deep, incredibly lengthy RPG that is bursting at the seams with personality and charm. If you’ve ever played a NES/SNES RPG, then you know what you’re getting here. You progress through a story, leveling up your characters trough turn based fights and collect gear that makes them more powerful. My understanding is that, unlike its at-the-time rival series, Final Fantasy, Dragon Quest does not opt to reinvent the wheel with every iteration, so this core gameplay has had relatively little change through the years.
I find it interesting, then, that Dragon Quest VII feels so unique. I’ve never played a game with a structure and rhythm like this, and I like it. You play as a hero living on the solitary island of Estard, whose inhabitants believe they are the only civilization on the planet. Through a series of events with your friends Keifer and Maribel, you discover that there are in fact more islands and civilizations in the world, but they have mysteriously disappeared. In order to make the rest of the islands and continents reappear, you have to collect fragments of tablets that make up the shapes of the islands. You then put them back together, allowing you to warp to a point in that island’s distant past where it is being tormented by some kind of evil. After helping rid the island of evil in the past, it then reappears in the present time, ready to be explored.
This makes the story of Dragon Quest VII play out in a really interesting way. Instead on one huge, evolving plot, this game feels like it’s composed of many tiny adventures that make this one of the most fascinating RPG worlds I’ve had the pleasure of experiencing. Each time you complete one of the past scenarios, you get a heartwarming sense of joy in helping out villagers on a micro-scale. It’s a really refreshing change from RPGs that focus on generic save-the-world plot lines. The world of Dragon Quest VII is also full of mystery, and it’s wonderfully paced in terms of how you discover more and more about how this world came to be this way and why all the islands disappeared.
Here Be Dragons
Dragon Quest VII is a seriously pretty game. It’s a huge improvement from the dated-looking original. The environments are fully 3D, and most of them have a fully rotatable camera, almost beckoning you to look at every pretty nook and cranny. The character models are great as well, a huge upgrade from the 2D sprites of the original. What really stood out to me was the enemy character models, which look gorgeous, and have magnificent animations. The 3D effect during battles is especially great, and there is an impressive sense of depth, but it’s merely passable during the overworld sections and I didn’t really notice it much there. As for the music, I found it to be consistently great, although I think that the amount of tracks could be larger. After a while, it feels like déjà vu when you hear the same songs repeatedly for dozens of hours.
One of the most common complaints that I’ve read about the original VII is that it has quite a slow start. Apparently, this remake cuts out and condenses a lot of the exposition to get you to the action more quickly. Even with this though, it took me well over an hour before I even saw my first fight. However, though this was an unusually huge amount of set up, the payoff when the heroes figure out how to travel to the past is massive, and well worth the lengthy opening, in my opinion.
Finding tablet fragments was another common complaint, but there are a couple of additions that correct this. You get a new radar item that lets you know if there is a tablet if your current area, and a new NPC gives you hints as to where to look if you’re lost. Finding fragments felt very organic to me, and I can easily see why this would have been frustrating without these methods of finding them, since they are often hidden in out-of-the-way locations.
Turning Back Time
The flow of the game itself is pretty slow and methodical in a way that’s pretty comforting. There are typical RPG tropes here, of course. You travel from town to town on a world map area and crawl through dungeons with the occasional interesting puzzle. Thankfully, random encounters are not present in this game. Monsters actually appear on the map, and encounters are triggered upon contact, giving you the chance of avoiding encounters if you so wish. Leveling happens pretty slowly, which makes gaining levels feel like an actual earned reward.
However, the game also inherits a lot of negative aspects of classic RPGs. Later portions require an unpleasant amount of grinding. There were several grindy portions that threw the pacing of the experience off, and made me want to quit playing this, to the point where it took a lot of force of will to continue. It doesn’t help that the game punishes you pretty severely for wiping out by taking away half of your gold, and I often opted to restart from my last save instead.
Combat is pretty barebones. It’s the standard turn-based system that this series is known for, and it works. There is a class system in the game, but it’s introduced pretty significantly late in the game. I didn’t get access to the vocations system until about 20 hours into the game, and I thought I was moving at a pretty brisk pace. This brings me to another thing that I need to highlight: the length. This game is ridiculously long, even by RPG standards. Let me illustrate it this way: it took me around 70 to 80 hours to reach the end credits. Yeah, this sounds gargantuan, and it is. It’s great to get bang for your buck like this, but I can easily see most people not completing this game and giving up partway.
A Fragmented Experience
Dragon Quest VII is a wonderful RPG that does a pretty good job of toeing the line between hardcore and welcoming. The dialogue is excellent, making me feel a genuine connection to even the most minor of characters, while at the same time being laugh-out-loud hilarious at some points. The graphics are among the most beautiful on the 3DS, and it only takes a glance at the original PlayStation version of this game to see the amount of effort that went into this remake.
That said, it’s not a perfect experience. There is a lot of frustration involved in this game. If you’ve ever played a classic NES or SNES RPG, you know what I mean. There’s grinding, the pacing is inconsistent, and the game is exhaustingly long. At the same time, the positives greatly outweigh the negatives here. The class system is enjoyable, and the way that the story is structured is unique and lovely. If you’re looking for a great old-school RPG, this game is for you.
- The dialogue is fantastic and engaging. Every sentence is a joy to read.
- The graphics are beautiful, and the battles have an enjoyable sense of depth with the 3DS’s 3D mode.
- The structure of the story is unique and enjoyable.
- The vocations system is a blast that keeps the battle system interesting.
- Tons of game for your money. This is easily a 100+ hour adventure when it’s all said and done.
- The music is gorgeous, even though it could be a little more varied.
- The game sometimes does not justify its massive size. This is a really big one. Some of the stories don’t feel different enough from each other. Many long portions just made me feel like I was going through the motions.
- Several sections require an unenjoyable amount of grinding.